Thirteen contemporary Australian artists bring their obsession with colour together in this immersive exhibition
This exhibition of new Australian art is as simple or complex as you want to make it. On face value alone, it’s worth a trip: colour unleashed on all surfaces except the concrete floors and wood columns, and in every kind of texture – from glossy enamel to matte brushstrokes on glass, and liquid-looking paint ‘skins’ draped over steel frames. Several of the works are op-art sculptures that arrange colour (in hanging strips or neon tubes) to confuse the eye. It’s immediately arresting: the colour palette as surprising as it is bright, and the environment deliberately immersive.
In a very literal sense, when you walk through the doors at Artspace, you are walking into a work of art: Rebecca Baumann’s ‘Colour Scenario #3’, comprised of ten painted walls marking the perimeter of the space. Sixteen Dulux hues have been deployed, including Cowardly Custard, Go Alpha, Chloride, Double Bass, Lily Legs, Scampi, Pea Case and Purple Pool.
Baumann was the first artist to install her work within the Artspace galleries (for obvious reasons) and the rest of the works were allocated specific spots within the space before curators Alexie Glass-Kantor and Talia Linz had seen the colours of the walls. This has worked out incredibly (perhaps improbably) well: a paint-on-voile piece in a purple and pink palette, by local artist Jonny Niesche, vibrates even more intensely against a wall painted ‘Gold Rush’ yellow. Elsewhere, one of Huseyin Sami’s Colour Wire Hangs looks to have been colour-matched to the Lily Legs wall it’s been allocated.
So much for the simple; now to the complex – starting with the densely theoretical exhibition title, which tips its hat to semiotics of time, physics and art theory. Fun. Co-curator Talia Linz explains: “It comes from a story about how we symbolise time: we basically build the semiotics of time with seconds, minutes and hours. Three types, layered.”
For the purposes of this show, the base note is ‘colourist abstraction’: an art movement that has its roots in post-industrial ‘modernism’ on the one hand the post-war rejection of ‘realism’ on the other, and which (much as it sounds) is devoted to colour AND abstract art. Accordingly, ten ‘colourist’ artists were selected for the show: Sydney Ball, Rebecca Baumann, Ry David Bradley, Lara Merrett, Elizabeth Newman, Jonny Niesche, Huseyin Sami, Nike Savvas, Gemma Smith and Brendan Van Hek. All the artists in the show are Australian, about half are under 40, and many are subverting traditional notions of painting.
The ‘three types’ superimposed on the ‘abstract colourist’ theme are the elements of sound (artist Julian Day), movement (dancer Shelley Lasica) and text (curator and artist Spence Messih). Day has created an audio guide for the exhibition, Lasica will perform within the gallery space (on opening night and on February 18), and Messih is writing an essay on colourist abstraction as a form of queer resistance (available from March).
The good news? You can have your cake and eat it – enjoy the eye candy while also dipping into deeper thoughts about colour and art: Day’s audio guide for the exhibition, comprised of nine short tracks on an iPod shuffle, offers bite-sized bits of history and theory and esoterica in eminently digestible language.